Police pressed ahead today with the search for suspects in Belgium’s worst ever terror attack, as a series of raids and arrests revealed more links with the November Paris killings and a new French plot.
The government meanwhile came in for a torrent of criticism, with key ministers on the back foot saying they had done everything possible to prevent Tuesday’s airport and metro attacks which left 31 dead and some 300 wounded.
Many believe it has not done enough to stop young Belgian fighters going to Syria to join Islamic State - which claimed the attacks - and from where they return home battle-hardened and more extremist than before.
“Attacks, tens of dead, hundreds hurt, tears, raids, a political crisis, the capital under siege and fugitives still on the run while (key Paris suspect) Salah Abdeslam says nothing in prison,” wrote Christophe Berti in a front page editorial for Le Soir daily.
“It is an endless nightmare for a country turned upside down,” Berti said.
Yesterday, a series of raids produced three arrests in connection with what French authorities said was an imminent new attack.
President Francois Hollande said a jihadist network which hit both Paris and Brussels was being “destroyed” but also warned that the threat remained and everyone must be on guard.
The Belgian government has admitted “errors” and two ministers offered to resign after Turkey said it had arrested and deported Ibrahim El Bakraoui, who blew himself up in the airport attack.
Belgium had ignored warnings that he was a “foreign terrorist fighter,” it said.
Ibrahim and his brother Khalid, the suicide bomber in the metro attack, were also on a US counter-terrorism watch list, CNN reported.
Ibrahim was on the list even before the November Paris attacks while Khalid was added soon after. Prosecutors have also confirmed Khalid was the subject of an international warrant over the Paris attacks.
European authorities are under huge pressure to better coordinate the tracking of homegrown extremists and fighters returning from Syria, as evidence grows of a thriving jihadist network straddling France and Belgium.
A Belgian parliamentary commission yesterday questioned the ministers for justice, foreign affairs, and the interior on how Ibrahim El Bakraoui had managed to slip past the authorities.
The ministers said the information from Ankara was vague while a Belgian police officer at the embassy in Turkey had “blundered”.